Eugene Carchesio

Sellas Gallery, Brisbane
7 June - 25 June, 1988

The underlying thrust of Eugene Carchesio's work is energy - and his prolific output carries the same message. He has concurrently 61 works on show at Sellas Gallery and another 13 (courtesy of Sellas Gallery) in (I)Magical Poetics, a group exhibition at the IMA.

Mostly working in minature, Carchesio draws threads from a past both classical and mystical, and weaves them into a contemporary framework which itself makes reference to ancient philosophical structures. Carchesio uses the grid, sometimes overlaid, sometimes underlaid, and referred to as "Test Pattern": a modern technological frame which is tied it back to the classical and mediaeval through its geometric structure.

The use of watercolour on paper, combined with enigmatic subject matter, produces a fairytale narrative quality in a number of the works. The immediate ingenuousness of the surface is belied, however, by elements of mystery in carefully constructed symbolism.

Carchesio has drawn on the contradictory symbols of early Renaissance to demonstrate virtually opposing origins of transformation: Christian symbolism finds its place alongside the alchemical cones of energy. The spiritual/mystical is continually placed against the geometrical/structural, each as sources of imagination and transmutation, perhaps complementary, perhaps opposing.

The geometric shapes most favoured by Carchesio are triangle, circle, and their product, the cone – all variously symbols of energy, the spiritual and the eternal. Where he does use more earthbound shapes, such as the square and the rectangle, they are given dimension and volume. Painted squares are tessellated cubes.

A sculptural work consisting of 14 small pieces and titled Monuments to Silence and Invisibility, is constructed from matchboxes, black-card cones (within black card cones), and (contained in a match box), a wooden cross overlaying a card cross. The cross reminds us of the potency of space - the mystery from which all is generated.

A somewhat surprising ambiguity in Carchesio's work lies in the insubstantiality of its material existence (when he does use canvas it is usually only a fragment), within the context of his themes of continuity and the eternal. This ambiguity is cleverly demonstrated in a number of works backed by old brown paper complete with sticky-tape marks - suggesting, one imagines, that making art is an "ordinary" activity - yet the works are recessed deeply behind glass, hinting that "aura" still exists.

The titles of the works, too, are intriguing. A couple of the works do incorporate text into their surface, but the titles of all are so provocative that, in absentia, they hover over the surface and must be taken into account. Adventure in the Impossible Architecture of the Holy Ghost, Study for the Invisibility of all Things, Sacred Swirls of Automatic Life – the seduction of the word prefigures the seduction of the work.

Worlds (+ -) uses positive and negative in a matrix. Watercolour circles side-by-side, one rose-pink and textured, the other blue, cut with a swathe of green, and smooth, function as image with after-image. The pink circle contains, in its upper hemisphere, four gold-tinted cherubs, while their negative opposites appear in blue-grey in the lower half. A cross, green on gold, holds the two in balance.

Despite this ambiguity, the pink circle presents classical harmony and balance allied to Christian representation. In contrast, the blue circle contains images of chaos and randomness, of forces that resist conventional order: wizard's caps (one with flaming wings), a horseshoe, cosmic, inharmonious circles which enwoinb a baby or foetus. Here the sideways cross contains a cube which is, perhaps, a dice.

Worlds (+ -) could be read, then, as the Apollinian and the Dionysiac, the ordered rational conscious and the chaotic, irrational unconscious.

Test Pattern for the Worlds Without End is also constructed as two (slightly smaller) watercolour circles, each made up of geometric patterns. On the left, pale blue, pale gold and white cubic patterning is overlaid with a richly clothed archangel playing a harp which is beginning to smoulder flame at the top. The angel's fingers strumming the harp form the letter E (Energy and Eugene), and its head is a small cube in vivid primary colours.

The harp makes clear reference to Magritte and the surreal (world of the unconscious) against a background grid with colours undeniably spiritual, though the shapes are rational.

The circle on the right contains tesselated triangles, the upthrust gold, the downthrust green. The implication of a pattern within a circle is that it continues on eternally (as the name of the work suggests) - perhaps this circle can be read as the rational and figurative becoming pure spirit.

Carchesio's world of symbols is engrossing and enchanting. The limitless permutations made possible by the cohesive yet diverse range of symbols mean that a collection of his works is like an Aladdin's Cave of arcane mystery and delight.